Midrash by Miriam Sagan


In the middle of the night
I couldn’t tell the difference

between what I wanted
and what I had

between my first
and my second husband

between what I loved
and what loved me.

The neighbor keeps a light on
against burglars

although he no longer stands smoking
and his mother is long dead

behind his house
a recluse prays

in front of mine
four brothers shoot hoops

in the middle of the night
a coyote strolls across St. Francis Drive

Coyote pretends to sleep on a park bench
counting stars

I say: you can count on me
even, if in darkness,

I can’ tell
the difference

between Rachel and Leah
Jacob and the angel.
Recently published in a Canadian anthology from Black Dog & One-Eyes Press. And forthcoming in my book START AGAIN from Red Mountain Press, 2021. Some notes: Midrash is commentary, a traditional Jewish practice of deconstructing text. In contemporary terms, you can add your own experience. Because midrash is thoughtful, I think of it as a kind of antidote to my continuous knee jerk opinions about everything. Coyote is the local trickster in the American Southwest. I read Jacob, patriarch though he may be, as a similar figure.

7 thoughts on “Midrash by Miriam Sagan

  1. Very wonderful.
    What is the name of the Canadian anthology?
    And where can I look for (from the road…..am on a cross country road trip) your newest book?

    I love the Rilke poem about Jacob wrestling with the angel. Do you know it? Trans/version by Rbt Bly, all of it but esp. the closing lines.

    The Man Watching
    By Rainer Maria Rilke

    I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
    so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
    that a storm is coming,
    and I hear the far-off fields say things
    I can’t bear without a friend,
    I can’t love without a sister.

    The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
    across the woods and across time,
    and the world looks as if it had no age:
    the landscape, like a line in the psalm book,
    is seriousness and weight and eternity.

    What we choose to fight is so tiny!
    What fights with us is so great.
    If only we would let ourselves be dominated
    as things do by some immense storm,
    we would become strong too, and not need names.

    When we win it’s with small things,
    and the triumph itself makes us small.
    What is extraordinary and eternal
    does not want to be bent by us.
    I mean the Angel who appeared
    to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
    when the wrestlers’ sinews
    grew long like metal strings,
    he felt them under his fingers
    like chords of deep music.

    Whoever was beaten by this Angel
    (who often simply declined the fight)
    went away proud and strengthened
    and great from that harsh hand,
    that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
    Winning does not tempt that man.
    This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
    by constantly greater beings.

    –Translated by Robert Bly

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